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Checkers Clinch Playoff Spot in Chicago

April 13, 2013 - American Hockey League (AHL) - Charlotte Checkers News Release

Reactions to shootout losses tend to vary, with glass half-full and glass half-empty approaches both well within the realm of reason. That said, Saturday's in Rockford was as sweet as they come.

Despite missing a chance to clinch a playoff spot completely within their own power after falling 2-1 to Chicago on Saturday, the single point earned was still enough to book their ticket to the postseason thanks to Milwaukee's subsequent loss to Rockford. With three games left to play in the regular season, Charlotte has now ensured that it will be playing more hockey in two weeks.

John Muse, playing just his second game since March 21, made 38 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped three of six in the shootout. Matt Beca scored Charlotte's only goal, knocking a loose puck in over the goal line to give the Checkers a 1-0 lead near the end of the second period.

Charlotte will now play out the final three games of the regular season - all part of the same road trip that ends in Peoria on Saturday - with an eye on home-ice advantage. Saturday's point solidified their hold on fourth place, which may be the highest they can climb with Texas still holding a significant but not insurmountable lead in the South Division.

The Checkers very nearly clinched the playoff spot, their second in three AHL seasons, by way of their own efforts, having rallied from a 2-0 shootout deficit to force an extra round. It was in the first sudden-death sequence that former Checker Jon Matsumoto scored, setting up Charlotte's third consecutive must-score attempt to extend the game.

After Jerome Samson, returning from a 36-game injury absence, and Justin Shugg scored on the previous two shots to keep things going, defenseman Justin Krueger, a low-scorer in games who had proven to be something of a secret weapon for the team in recent years, was stopped by Matt Climie to end the game.

All eyes then quickly turned to Milwaukee, whose game started 30 minutes later. At the conclusion of Charlotte's game, the Admirals were down 2-0 to Rockford in the third period, with the final score of 3-1 good enough secure the Checkers' return to the postseason.

Aside from their eventual seed and opponent, Charlotte still has a goaltending situation to sort out in the regular season's final week. With rookie Rob Madore picking up some momentum with 87 saves over a two-game stretch against Texas on Thursday and Friday, Muse, a proven playoff performer in lesser leagues, battled back against the Wolves.

The second-year pro, who won a Kelly Cup MVP award as part of the ECHL Florida Everblades' championship team last season, was a key part of a Checkers penalty kill that finished 6-for-6 on the night, including a successful five-on-three kill in the first period and another in overtime.

Muse, who missed time at the AHL level due to an NHL recall to Carolina, has stopped 69 of 73 shots in his last two starts. In addition to his battle with Madore, Mike Murphy, the Checkers' starter in their last playoff appearance two seasons ago, is with the team and awaiting his season debut at the AHL level after recently returning from a five-month break.

Saturday's game completed a three-in-three set for the Checkers, who played Texas in Charlotte on Thursday and Friday. The team now has points in four consecutive games (1-0-3), having lost three consecutive overtime games on the heels of six straight overtime wins.

The Checkers' trip continues Tuesday in Peoria, one of two remaining games against the Rivermen, who have already been eliminated from the playoffs. They will also face Milwaukee on Friday before concluding their regular season with a return trip to Peoria on Saturday.

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